Where 2013 Miami Heat Rank Among NBA's Best Teams of the Last 2 Decades

Jimmy SpencerNBA Lead WriterJune 26, 2013

Where 2013 Miami Heat Rank Among NBA's Best Teams of the Last 2 Decades

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    The Miami Heat did everything they could this season.

    They won their second consecutive title, they finished with the best record of the regular season and they also won 27 straight games.

    So now what?

    Well, once a team proves itself to the furthest point, it’s only fitting to rank that team against other champions of recent memory.

    The Heat were dominant, but do they rank higher than Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers or Tim Duncan’s San Antonio Spurs?

    It's certainly not an easy ranking. Teams are awarded for regular season and postseason record as well as superstar power and the talent level of complementary players. Ultimately, it comes down to just how dominant these teams were during their respective championship seasons.

    With assistance of the statistics at Basketball-Reference.com, the Heat find their proper placement along the league’s best champions of the past 20 years.

21. 1994-95 Houston Rockets

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    Finals: Defeated Orlando Magic, 4-0

    Finals MVP: Hakeem Olajuwon (32.8 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game)

    Other top players: Clyde Drexler, Vernon Maxwell, Kenny Smith, Robert Horry

    Regular-season record: 47-35, No. 6 seed

    Postseason record: 15-7

    In the second of their back-to-back titles, the Houston Rockets transformed in the postseason, turning a 47-win season and a No. 6 seed into the lowest seed to win the NBA Finals.

    The team added Clyde Drexler through a Valentine's Day trade in exchange for Otis Thorpe and a first-round draft pick. Drexler scored 20.5 points per game in the playoffs, adding five assists and seven rebounds as the perfect second option behind Olajuwon.

    This team had plenty of depth, including shooters Sam Cassell, Smith, Horry and Mario Elie.

    The Rockets beat the second-seeded Phoenix Suns for the second consecutive season in a seven-game, second-round series. The Rockets then knocked off the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the conference finals.

    Both Houston's championships came during Michael Jordan’s “retirement” which lasted all of 1993-94 and half of 1994-95. If Jordan was playing, it’s hard to say whether or not the Rockets would have won their title.

20. 2005-06 Miami Heat

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    Finals: Defeated Dallas Mavericks, 4-2

    Finals MVP: Dwyane Wade (34.7 points per game)

    Other top players: Shaquille O'Neal, Antoine Walker, Jason Williams

    Regular-season record: 52-30, No. 2 seed

    Postseason record: 16-7

    Don’t forget about what Wade once was as a younger player. He was not the secondary option to LeBron James, but the third-year guard who took the league by storm whose four consecutive 35-plus point games made him just the first player to do so since Michael Jordan in 1993.

    His play even led to O’Neal, the superstar who had recently ditched the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant, to say before the trophy ceremony, "Wade is the best player ever," as reported by ESPN.

    O'Neal shot 61.2 percent in the finals for 18.4 points per game. The Heat also carried veteran talents Gary Payton and Alonzo Mourning.

    It was a grueling postseason run, as the Heat went down 0-2 against the Mavericks before winning four in a row, three of which came by a margin of three points or less.

19. 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks

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    Finals: Defeated Miami Heat, 4-2

    Finals MVP: Dirk Nowitzki (26 points and 9.6 rebounds per game)

    Other top players: Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd

    Regular-season record: 57-25, No. 3 seed

    Postseason record: 16-5

    This Mavericks team may go down more as the team that knocked out the Miami Heat’s superteam of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh than for being a great title team itself.

    However, don’t overlook the collection of veterans that Rick Carlisle pulled last bits of talent from. The Mavericks never dominated in a specific area, but the cast of experience knew how to win.

    It started with Nowitzki, who was so focused during the finals that he hit 45 of 46 free-throw attempts. Nowitzki became the brightest star despite facing off against James and Wade.

    The complementary scoring of Terry came alive in the postseason, as he averaged 17.5 points per game and hit two of 4.5 (44.2 percent) three-pointers per game. Kidd contributed through his leadership but also averaged two three-pointers per game in the playoffs.

18. 2003-04 Detroit Pistons

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    Finals: Defeated Los Angeles Lakers, 4-1

    Finals MVP: Chauncey Billups (21 points and 5.2 assists per game)

    Other top players: Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace, Tayshaun Prince

    Regular-season record: 54-28, No. 3 seed

    Postseason record: 16-7

    The Pistons were unlike any champion of the last 20 years, as they were the only team to win a title without an elite, superstar player.

    Billups certainly played like a top-tier player in the series though, shooting 51 percent from the field and acting as the team’s playmaker.

    The strength of the Pistons came from their staunch defense (best in the regular season at allowing 84.3 points per game) led by Ben Wallace, one of the league’s premier interior defenders at the time. The Pistons had a depth of competitive talent, led in scoring by Hamilton’s postseason average of 21.5 points 4.2 assists.

    Few expected the Pistons to win the series, let alone do it in five games, but Detroit's team style outplayed the Lakers' lean on superstars Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant.

17. 1993-94 Houston Rockets

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    Finals: Defeated New York Knicks, 4-3

    Finals MVP: Hakeem Olajuwon (26.9 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game)

    Other top players: Vernon Maxwell, Robert Horry, Otis Thorpe, Kenny Smith

    Regular-season record: 58-24, No. 2 seed

    Postseason record: 15-8

    With Michael Jordan and his string of three consecutive titles gone, the Houston Rockets still faced the difficult task of the East’s new representatives, the New York Knicks. This was the first of the back-to-back Rockets championship teams.

    Houston was headlined by one of the league’s top centers in Olajuwon, who outplayed Patrick Ewing in the seven-game series to earn the title to become the first center to win the finals MVP award since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1985.

    The Rockets were great as a No. 2 seed that moved past the Western Conference defending champion Phoenix Suns in a seven-game second round.

    Not only did the Rockets have a strong starting lineup, but it was also special because of bench shooters Sam Cassell and Mario Elie.

16. 2009-10 Los Angeles Lakers

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    Finals: Defeated Boston Celtics, 4-3

    Finals MVP: Kobe Bryant (28.6 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game)

    Other top players: Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace, Lamar Odom

    Regular season-record: 57-25, No. 1 seed

    Postseason record: 16-7

    The Lakers added more talent for their second title when they added free agent Ron Artest as a replacement for Trevor Ariza. The team was the highest spending franchise in the NBA that season, also re-signing Lamar Odom and paying Bryant, Gasol and Andrew Bynum approximately $52 million combined.

    With that high salary came top-level talent, as Bryant continued to dominate in scoring and led the Lakers to 29.2 points per game, also adding six rebounds and 5.5 assists.

    Bryant had a dreadful Game 7 shooting performance (6-of-24) while playing with a hurt finger, but he still led the game in scoring (23 points) and had 15 rebounds in helping the Lakers grind out the series.

    Bynum progressed as inside help to Gasol in the interior. He upped his minutes from 17.3 in the 2008 title run to 24.4 minutes, giving this Lakers team a strong duo of centers. Bynum still averaged just 8.6 points and 6.9 rebounds that postseason while Gasol averaged 19.6 points on 53.9 percent and 11.1 rebounds.

15. 2004-05 San Antonio Spurs

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    Finals: Defeated Detroit Pistons, 4-3

    Finals MVP: Tim Duncan (20 points, 14 rebounds)

    Other top players: Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Bruce Bowen

    Regular-season record: 59-23, No. 2 seed

    Postseason record: 16-7

    The third of four Spurs championships meant having to beat the defending champion Pistons. The most anticipated matchup was between Pistons defensive star Ben Wallace and Duncan, and ultimately the Spurs power forward prevailed despite ups and downs throughout the series.

    The Spurs’ third title in seven seasons was again led by Duncan, but Ginobili's 20.8 points per game on 50.7 percent shooting in the playoffs cemented his place among Spurs favorites.

    The Spurs were loaded with complementary players such as: Robert Horry, whose big shots that fell for the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers, then fell for San Antonio. Bowen was the team's defensive leader, and center Nazr Mohammed shot 52.8 percent and added 6.7 rebounds.

14. 2002-03 San Antonio Spurs

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    Finals: Defeated New Jersey Nets, 3-2

    Finals MVP: Tim Duncan (24.2 points, 17.0 rebounds and 5.4 blocks per game)

    Other top players: Tony Parker, Stephen Jackson, Manu Ginobili

    Regular-season record: 60-22, No. 1 seed

    Postseason record: 16-8

    The San Antonio Spurs toppled the three-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers on their way to earning their second title in five seasons. This was another step in the Spurs’ dominance of the 2000s, as Duncan grew into his legacy as a champion.

    Duncan won the regular season's Most Valuable Player and the Finals MVP. What made the Spurs such a spectacular team in 2002-03 was the emergence of their balanced attack.

    Certainly Duncan was the superior piece in the middle, but the breakout of 20-year-old Parker and a 25-year-old Ginobili made the Spurs dangerous. Many forget that David Robinson still played 23.4 minutes for 7.8 points and 6.6 rebounds to be a part of his second title.

13. 2006-07 San Antonio Spurs

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    Finals: Defeated Cleveland Cavaliers, 4-0

    Finals MVP: Tony Parker (24.5 points on 56.8 percent shooting and 3.3 assists per game)

    Other top players: Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Michael Finley, Bruce Bowen

    Regular-season record: 58-24, No. 3 seed

    Postseason record: 16-4

    The most recent of the Spurs championships may have been the most convincing postseason of the Duncan-Parker-Ginobili era. The Spurs rolled through the West before sweeping LeBron James' Cavaliers in the Finals.

    While Duncan still starred in the playoffs, averaging a team-high 22.2 points and 11.5 rebounds, it was the further emergence of a 24-year-old Parker who averaged 20.8 points and 5.8 assists through the playoffs.

    The Spurs defense was again led by Bowen on the perimeter and Duncan inside, as San Antonio held opponents to a league-best 90.1 points during the regular season and had the second-best defensive rating of 99.9.

12. 2008-09 Los Angeles Lakers

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    Finals: Defeated Orlando Magic, 4-1

    Finals MVP: Kobe Bryant (32.4 points and 7.4 assists per game)

    Other top players: Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Trevor Ariza

    Regular season-record: 65-17, No. 1 seed

    Postseason record: 16-7

    This was Bryant’s first statement that he could do it without the help of Shaquille O’Neal.

    Instead he turned to Gasol, whose Win Share of 4.3 was close to Bryant's 4.7 throughout the playoffs, as he acted as Bryant’s inside mate. Gasol averaged 18.3 points on 58 percent shooting and 10.8 rebounds through the playoffs.

    This Lakers team won because of their third-ranked 106.9 points per game scoring and 112.8 offensive rating.

    With Bryant carrying the heavy load, the Lakers featured plenty of efficient scoring options. Odom shot 52.4 percent for 12.3 points per game, and Ariza shot 49.7 percent for 11.3 points per game. A 21-year-old Andrew Bynum played 17.3 minutes per game and averaged 6.3 points.

11. 1997-98 Chicago Bulls

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    Finals: Defeated Utah Jazz, 4-2

    Finals MVP: Michael Jordan (33.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists)

    Other top players: Scottie Pippen, Toni Kukoc, Dennis Rodman

    Regular-season record: 62-20, No. 1 seed

    Postseason record: 15-6

    Jordan capped his second three-peat and sixth overall NBA championship with a game-winning jumper in Game 6 against the Jazz. That’s what these Bulls did behind Jordan—they ripped out the hearts of opponents.

    Jordan would make his second, and most authentic, retirement following reception of his Finals MVP title. The Jazz, who shared the Bulls’ league-best record of 62 wins, were no easy task behind golden duo Karl Malone and John Stockton.

    Still, the Bulls behind Jordan were just too tough. Role players including Steve Kerr, Ron Harper and Luc Longley buoyed the consistent dominance of Jordan, Pippen and quality shooting of Kukoc.

10. 1999-2000 Los Angeles Lakers

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    Finals: Defeated Indiana Pacers, 4-2

    Finals MVP: Shaquille O’Neal (38 points, 16.7 rebounds and 2.67 blocks per game)

    Other top players: Kobe Bryant, Glen Rice, Ron Harper

    Regular-season record: 67-15, No. 1 seed

    Postseason record: 15-8

    The first title of the three-peat Lakers run came through the absolute dominance of O’Neal, the regular-season MVP and team's superstar center. O’Neal was supported by a 21-year-old Bryant in his fourth season who averaged 21.1 points and 4.4 assists per game in the series.

    After the series, the Los Angeles Times quoted the pair’s celebratory teammate Glen Rice who said, "I'll tell you, that's the best duo that I've seen in a long time. And they are going to be together, forever."

    Well, the feud between top two players in basketball lasted just two more titles.

    Under coach Phil Jackson, the Lakers were known for the scoring of their two superstars, but the team was also ranked first in the league with a defensive rating of 98.2.

9. 2007-08 Boston Celtics

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    Finals: Defeated Los Angeles Lakers, 4-2

    Finals MVP: Paul Pierce (21.8 points, 6.3 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game)

    Other top players: Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo

    Regular-season record: 66-16, No. 1 seed

    Postseason record: 16-10

    It was the Boston Celtics' first season with the Big Three as superstars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were both together with Paul Pierce—oh, and second-year Rajon Rondo. 

    It was one of the most dynamic turnarounds of an NBA franchise. The Celtics went from the East's worst record at 24 wins in 2006-07 to league champions.

    The Celtics cruised to a top seed in the regular season, but the postseason was more of a test, as Boston was pushed to seven games in the first round by the Atlanta Hawks, seven games to LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round and six games to the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals. It took six games to beat Kobe Bryant's Lakers in the Finals.

    Still, the resolve of the veteran-led Celtics was too much. Boston also featured defensive toughness led by Garnett, Pierce, Rondo and Kendrick Perkins, making the Celtics the highest rated (98.8) defensive team that season.

8. 1998-99 San Antonio Spurs

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    Finals: Defeated New York Knicks, 4-1

    Finals MVP: Tim Duncan (27.4 points, 14.0 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game

    Other top players: David Robinson, Avery Johnson, Sean Elliott

    Regular-season record: 37-13 (50-game lockout season), No. 1 seed

    Postseason record: 15-2

    Exit Michael Jordan, and enter Tim Duncan. The Spurs’ second-year power forward alongside center David Robinson tied the Utah Jazz for the West's best record at 37 wins.

    In the lockout-shortened season, the Spurs moved quickly through the West with just one loss in the first round to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The only other loss came in Game 3 of the Finals. The interior presence of Duncan and Robinson (as pictured) helped anchor a defense that held opponents to just 40.2 percent shooting and just 84.7 points per game.

    The regular season may not be remembered with great reverence because of the gimmicky 50-game schedule, but the Spurs’ dominance of the postseason holds a place among the best champions.

7. 2011-12 Miami Heat

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    Finals: Defeated Oklahoma City Thunder, 4-1

    Finals MVP: LeBron James (28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists)

    Other top players: Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers

    Regular-season record: 46-20, No. 2 seed (lockout-shortened season)

    Postseason record: 16-7

    What made them great: James, Wade and Bosh, despite falling the season prior to the Dallas Mavericks, finally shook off the doubters in 2012. James was dominant in the five-game series win against the Thunder.

    James' postseason average of 30.3 points and 5.6 assists per game made it tough on opponents, but dealing with Wade's averages of 22.8 points and 4.3 assists made the Heat dominant. The duo of superstar wings rank among the greatest to play together in the Finals outside of just Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.

    It wasn’t a perfect run, but few are, as Miami was taken to seven games by the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. None of that mattered though when the game’s top player lifted his first championship trophy.

6. 1992-93 Chicago Bulls

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    Finals: Defeated Phoenix Suns, 4-2

    Finals MVP: Michael Jordan (41 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game)

    Other top players: Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, B.J. Armstrong

    Regular-season record: 57-25, No. 2 seed

    Postseason record: 15-4

    That Jordan guy you always hear about—well, this was another of his unbelievable seasons. It was the cap on the Chicago Bulls' first three-peat, and it came during a time of stiff NBA competition.

    The New York Knicks had won 60 games that season and were the No. 1 seed, but after the Bulls dropped the first two games against them in the Eastern Conference Finals, Jordan rallied them for four consecutive wins.

    That Bulls team allowed the second least points per game in the regular season and in the postseason featured both Jordan (35.1 points) and Pippen (20.1 points) as the best one-two punch of the last 20 years.

    Ultimately though, it was about Jordan, the best player of the last 20 years. Then he “retired” to go play baseball.

5. 2001-02 Los Angeles Lakers

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    Finals: Defeated New Jersey Nets, 4-0

    Finals MVP: Shaquille O’Neal (36.3 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2.75 blocks per game)

    Other top players: Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, Rick Fox

    Regular-season record: 58-24, No. 3 seed

    Postseason record: 15-4

    Oh, what could have been. The third and final championship of the O’Neal and Bryant three-peat proved that the duo could contend for a title season after season.

    The Lakers' title run ended the following season in 2002-03 with a second-round loss to the San Antonio Spurs followed by a Finals loss to the Detroit Pistons. O’Neal left for the Miami Heat the following season.

    The 2002 title team featured the same dynamic play of the two superstars. Surrounded by modest role players—Derek Fisher, Rick Fox, Robert Horry and Devean George—the true core of the Lakers was O'Neal (28.5 points and 12.6 rebounds per game) and Bryant (26.6 points and 4.6 assists).

    Sacramento Kings fans will cringe at this Lakers title team, as the controversial Western Conference Finals went seven games and ended in heartbreak for Chris Webber and Mike Bibby’s run.

    This was also the run that brought us Mark Madsen's parade dancing.

4. 2012-13 Miami Heat

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    Finals: Defeated San Antonio Spurs, 4-3

    Finals MVP: LeBron James (25.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and 7.0 assists)

    Other top players: Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Ray Allen

    Regular-season record: 66-16, No. 1 seed

    Postseason record: 16-7

    It’s tough to place the Miami Heat too high among the best teams of the last 20 years.

    The Heat’s 2013 season included a 27-game win streak and the league’s best record, but Miami wasn’t as dominant through the playoffs in a way that Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls were or Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers were.

    Certainly the Spurs were formidable and beating them in seven games is still impressive, but Miami’s urgency and engagement waned throughout the series in a way that other dominant championship teams did not. Miami was pushed to seven games in both the Eastern Conference Finals and the Finals.

    Having the league’s MVP leading the effort certainly adds points in the Heat’s standing within the last two decades of title-winning teams, but Wade and Bosh were far from the dominant fellow superstars as they were meant to be.

    Working in Miami’s favor was a productive bench that included the heroic Game 6 three-pointer of Allen, but was also aided by the efforts of Shane Battier, Chris Andersen and Mike Miller.

    Ultimately though, the Heat aren't elite in this category.

3. 1996-97 Chicago Bulls

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    Finals: Defeated Utah Jazz, 4-2

    Finals MVP: Michael Jordan (32.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game)

    Other top players: Scottie Pippen, Toni Kukoc, Dennis Rodman

    Regular-season record: 69-13, No. 1 seed

    Postseason record: 15-4

    In the same season that Kobe Bryant entered the league, Jordan remained dominant. The season following a record-high 72 wins, and the Bulls went on in 1996-97 to tie the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers for 69 wins.

    Jordan lost out on the MVP award to Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz, but he led the league in scoring at 29.6 points per game for the second consecutive year.

    With Jordan as a dominant scorer alongside the offensive support and defensive brilliance of Pippen, the Bulls remained just too difficult to stop. This Bulls team holds its place among the best.

2. 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers

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    Finals: Defeated Philadelphia 76ers, 4-1

    Finals MVP: Shaquille O’Neal (33.0 points, 15.6 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game)

    Other top players: Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, Rick Fox

    Regular-season record: 56-26, No. 2 seed

    Postseason record: 15-1

    This was the most dominant of the Lakers’ postseason runs, and it ranks among the best of the last two decades. The team’s only loss of the playoffs came in the opening game of the Finals against the 76ers before the Lakers went to win the series in five games.

    O’Neal followed up his dominant performance in 2000 with yet another incredible showing of his unique talents as the game’s best center. Bryant became more valuable with age, and at 22 years old he averaged 29.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists.

    There was no argument that the two best talents were playing together, and certainly Bryant’s numbers were equally as valuable as O’Neal’s MVP numbers.

    The differences between O'Neal and Bryant were looming larger during the regular season, but the devouring postseason wiped away bad feelings.

    "It's especially satisfying to know that we didn't just win, we dominated," Lakers forward Rick Fox told Sports Illustrated after the 2001 title. "We made the regular season harder than it had to be with our internal problems, but once we found ourselves, there was no stopping this team."

1. 1995-96 Chicago Bulls

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    Finals: Defeated Seattle SuperSonics, 4-2

    Finals MVP: Michael Jordan (27.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game)

    Other top players: Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Toni Kukoc

    Regular-season-record: 72-10, No. 1 seed

    Postseason record: 15-3

    No team won as many games as the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. They were the best team of the last 20 years. Michael Jordan’s first full season back ended with a Most Valuable Player award.

    The Bulls swept the Miami Heat in the first round before rolling through the New York Knicks 4-1 in the second round and before ultimately sweeping the Orlando Magic in the conference finals. The Bulls went up 3-0 in the finals before surprisingly losing Games 4 and 5 before finishing the job in Game 6.

    Phil Jackson was Coach of the Year and Kukoc won Sixth Man of the Year. Jordan led the league in scoring at 30.4 points per game, and Rodman led the league with 14.9 rebounds per game.

    No team in the last two decades ever dominated like this version of Jordan's Bulls.